Jean Toomer Cane Term Paper

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heart:" the "great design" of Toomer's Cane, William Dow addresses the themes and intentions of Toomer through both and interpretation of the work and through Toomer's own words in personal documents. Dow in fact begins his work with a quote from a letter Toomer wrote to a contemporary: "I want great art. This means I want great design." Jean Toomer, "Open Letter to Gorham Munson" The quote sets the tone for his literary analysis and develops the idea that there are design meanings within the work that transcend the criticism of Cane. Through this imaginative and interpretive style Dow builds a case for his thesis:

Cane's narrator, (1) a teller in a social community, adopts a narrative design that shows us how a self-reflective storyteller (2) can "essentialize" and "spiritualize" experience. At the same time, Toomer undertakes a rhetorical project of positioning his readers in a variety of identifications, which serve to illustrate his repudiating of essentialist notions of race. By forcefully bringing together the narrator and reader...Toomer reveals false categories and separations that are both literary and social. The relationship between the narrator and his addressees thus becomes Cane's plot.

(Dow, 2002)

Dow makes clear that there is an abundance of criticism of Toomer's Cane and though there may be some truth to the critical, his take is that Cane's greater design was not meant to be distant to race or folk but through the positioning of character he challenged those very issues.

Given the present emphasis on issues surrounding identity politics and the representational logic of cultural studies, it is perhaps not surprising that in the reams of criticism on Jean Toomer's Cane there is remarkably little concerning the issues of direct address and narrative authority. Yet in Cane, Toomer's use of direct address, going against interpretations that marginalize his representations for being insufficiently "folk" or "racial," is crucial in evoking a relationship of sympathy and identification in the reader while creating a distinctly modernist form of storytelling. (Dow, 2002)

Dow makes clear that through Toomer's new style he attempted to discover the challenges that are associated not only with race but with societal position. "Part of Toomer's "great design" in Cane is that his text, like any written text and paralleling any oral performance, is by someone and to someone. It is, then, a social transaction that does not present what is said to the exclusion of who says it to whom and for what purpose (see Ricoeur)." (Dow, 2002) Toomer meant for there to be distance, and he meant for that distance to convey a message of social disparity.

Given the historical focus upon Cane as the noted marker of the beginning of the famed Harlem Renaissance, Dow believes that the critical evaluations of Cane's work are not necessarily on the mark and that Toomer is unrecognized for his design and narrative style. That through his less defined character development he intended to clearly develop the idea of how one sees another, as an outsider and that these interpretations are necessary, purposeful and mostly very telling.

Although Cane's characters receive relatively brief treatment, the identity of the novel's narrator is presented in more fully developed terms, both as a process of consciousness and unconsciousness and as a subject impinged on and affected by interactions with his characters and narratee. (Dow, 2002)

Dow complains that many literary critics fail to acknowledge the narrator as a character and fail to recognize the literary tool of Toomer's individual style as a development of the modern. In this case Dow argues that critics use older models of narrative rather than recognizing the modern to compare the work against.

The narrator renders his "individuality" through a socialized interdependence based on forms of direct address and a creative negotiation of narrative authority. Toomer's radically new formal transgressions, which follow his radical positions on race and culture, speak to the need to understand Cane in terms of both stylistic function and thematic expression. (Dow, 2002)

Dow goes on to further dissect the work by developing the idea that each of the three parts of the novel has a particular intention of development for the narrator and the characters' interplay. Though Dow has a rather complicated take on the concepts the theory is well explained

My purpose here is to trace Toomer's self-reflective narrators in the three sections of Cane in order to show how Toomer raises the issue of "social transaction" implied by the choice of narrative method and by the identification of narrator, narratee, and reader. In effect, Toomer does not assert cognitive authority but concentrates instead on articulating modes of narrative authority and patterns of feeling that directly modify not how we understand the world so much as how we engage it. He suggests that there are modes other than "race" that afford significant ways of resisting the dominant cultural emphases on difference. I want to show how these concepts and modes are inflected by the geographical movements of the book, what shifts in the identification of narrator and narratee are implied by shifts in the nature of the communal experience in Cane's three sections, and how the subjectivities of characters, narrators, and real and implied readers have been shaped by different communal experiences. Cane is a productive rewriting of "race," allowing for the recognition of multiple authentic African-American voices, identifications complicated by class, gender, and geography, and greatly enriched by the significant modulations in narrative address that Toomer undertakes.

Moreover, I want to consider how each of Cane's three sections records an emergence of a special racial ethos of modern life. (Dow, 2002)

Though Dow has a rather complicated take on the concepts the theory is well explained. Dow asserts that Toomer, true to his character is creating a design that rewrites the racial ethos in his own design.

Cane is a productive rewriting of "race," allowing for the recognition of multiple authentic African-American voices, identifications complicated by class, gender, and geography, and greatly enriched by the significant modulations in narrative address that Toomer undertakes.

Moreover, I want to consider how each of Cane's three sections records an emergence of a special racial ethos of modern life. (Dow, 2002)

Dow goes on to outline the intent of each section of the book through a very comprehensive discussion of each, again using lines from the work and lines from personal correspondence to explain Toomer's intent. His take on Part One is:

Part One involves the narrator building a foundation of restoring "race" to a metaphorical position equal to, even identical with, the "soul" while at the same time he expresses the impossibility of sustaining such a creation. Intending to "vivify" both the narrator and reader, the narrator discloses his inability to fully enter the communities he describes. (Dow, 2002)

Moving on to Part Two Dow asserts that Toomer evolves into the next stages of his mythical ideology of race:

While keeping Part One's narrative strategy as a sub-tone, Part Two centers on the fragmentation, uncertainties, and multi-social positions of the new urban black communities that the narrator attempts to "reconcile" but with which he cannot totally identify. The multiple discourses of this section, however, suggest a more complex sympathy with the narratee as well as a deep identification with a new racial future. (Dow, 2002)

Additionally, Dow claims the Focus of Part three is also fundamentally pointing in the direction of rewriting racial codes:

Part Three focuses on a narrator who, while identifying with the protagonist "Kabnis," self-reflectively points to Toomer's own racial re-examination and the need for a new racial discourse and expansion. Kabnis's intimations of self-closure and self-repression, however, mark off his inability to enter this discourse or to connect with his community. (Dow, 2002)

Dow sums up his points about the evolution of ideals through the three sections of the novel by expressing that each section was espousing racial unity but clearly showing the intentions techniques available for this change are still leaving some un-represented and on the outside.

All three sections similarly attempt some kind of inter-racial unity in which the "I" and "you" can be represented by the same voice but each section reveals differences in attempting to achieve this unity. Toomer probes for a voice that would reconcile his own racial dichotomies and those of the United States in the 1920s.

(Dow, 2002)

Dow's points are as complicated as his theory about the hidden meanings of Toomer's style, yet he does regard an issue that is often a plague of benchmark works. If Dow is correct and he does make a strong case, Toomer's geniuos has gone unrecognized. Toomer's intentions in Cane would then become a benchmark on two notes. He wished to begin a new trend in literature, or at least alter an existing style to better meet the needs of his message and he wished to write something about race that had not been written before.

Criticism of benchmark works often revolve around would, have, should have, could have arguments from…[continue]

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